In true budget travel fashion, we opted to take a train and ferry from Italy to Sicily instead of flying.
Stretching our dollar even farther, we opted to take a regional train with “reclining seats” for the 10-hour journey ahead. Reserving a couchette (a bunk bed in a 4-6 person room) would’ve cost at least 30€ per person extra. Having been on the road for two months now, we were learning when to save and when to splurge. Food and experiences always took precedence over lodging and transportation.
From Napoli Central in Naples, we boarded our overnight train at 11pm. Hurrying on, we wandered the dimly-lit halls. Much to our surprise, we found the train to be fairly empty. A perk of off-season travel. Locating a stateroom all to ourselves, we happily realized our “reclining seats,” when fully reclined, were essentially beds. We donned our sleeping masks and cozied up underneath our fleece jackets. Thanks to the gentle lull of the train, we fell into a deep sleep.
Around 4:45am, we abruptly woke up to a terrifying jolt of our train car.
Completely disoriented and half-asleep, we looked out the window. Nothing but black sky. Our train car bobbled back and forth and we instinctively gripped the side of our seats for stability. With a loud squeak, the train car eventually seemed to “release” and fall into place with one final bump. Then, total silence and complete darkness.
Searching for some sign of life, much to our horror, we noticed the black sky actually wasn’t a sky, but a wall. We also noticed the small lights of our room were no longer lit. In fact, there was no electricity on at all. We got up, exited the stateroom and walked up and down the hallway. Not a soul was on board.
Making our way into the stateroom opposite us, we looked out the window. Another wall. We walked to either end of the car. Both doors were locked. Outside, more walls. Panic set in. Here we were, trapped on a train car, in some kind of holding room with no escape. Completely by ourselves. I envisioned us being the only people clueless enough to stay on board a disengaged train car.
Had we bypassed Sicily? Were we now heading to Africa?
Who knows. But what could we do? There was nowhere to go and no one to ask what was going on.
Eventually, we figured it out. Knowing that Sicily is an island, we had assumed we’d travel via an underground bridge, much like The Chunnel from London to Paris. But no. In the middle of the night, we had unknowingly been unloaded, like freight, on to the underbelly of a cargo ship to make our way across the Strait of Messina. What an ordeal to cross just two miles of water.
Since that bizarre voyage, we learned that plans have been under way to build a bridge to connect mainland Italy and Sicily. But concerns regarding involvement with the Mafia, as well as safety (since the area is prone to earthquakes), means the project has yet to be realized.
Until then, train visitors can enjoy their own adventure like us – by land and by sea. And by reading this, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of what to expect.